Verne Gagne, one of professional wrestling’s most celebrated performers and promoters, died April 27 at his daughter’s home in the Twin Cities area. He was 89.
The cause was Alzheimer’s disease, said Gene Okerlund, a pro wrestling announcer who was inducted into the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame with Mr. Gagne in 2006.
Mr. Gagne won several regional championships after turning pro in 1950 before heading to the newly formed American Wrestling Association (AWA), based in Minneapolis, in 1960, the WWE said.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Mr. Gagne became a promoter and eventually the sole owner of the AWA. He remained an active competitor until the early 1980s, holding the AWA World Heavyweight Championship title 10 times between 1960 and 1981.
The AWA “cranked out” a lot of stars, Okerlund said, including Hulk Hogan, Mad Dog Vachon and Nick Bockwinkel. It also was the breeding ground for future WWE stars, such as Jesse “The Body” Ventura, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and Pat Patterson, according to the WWE.
Laverne Clarence Gagne was born on Feb. 26, 1926, in Robbinsdale, Minn. He was a three-sport high school athlete and won multiple state championships in wrestling. He played football and wrestled at University of Minnesota, but he left after a year to join the Marine Corps at the end of World War II.
When he returned to finish college, he collected four Big Ten wrestling championships, two NCAA wrestling championships and the 1949 AAU Wrestling Championship.
Mr. Gagne had been living with his daughter following a confrontation in the memory care unit of a care center in Bloomington, Minn. Helmut Gutmann died in February 2009 of complications from a broken hip after he clashed with Mr. Gagne and was thrown to the floor. No charges were filed. Both men had dementia, and neither could recall what happened, officials said.
Mr. Gagne’s wife, Mary, died in 2002. Survivors include four children.